5 Important Nutrients For Vegans

photo of vegetable salad in bowls

Author Kiah Paetz

Please note this is a guest post submission the views may or may not reflect that of Kafui Fitness.

Over recent years the popularity of vegan diets have been on the rise. More people have been making the switch because of environmental, ethical or health reasons.

When followed correctly, this eating pattern has a wealth of health benefits including reduced blood cholesterol, improved blood pressure levels and easy weight maintenance.

It is important to note however, that when animal products are eliminated, there can be a risk of nutritional deficiencies if suitable meat and dairy replacements are not added.

In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into the five most important nutrients to consider when swapping to a vegan diet.


Protein is one of the three key macronutrients that provides the body with energy. It is essential for providing the body with amino acids, the building blocks of many hormones and enzymes. When eaten, it can also help assist with making you feel full and help to improve muscle mass.

A common misconception about plant-based diets is that they don’t provide adequate protein. For the average male and female, it is important to have 2.5 to 3 serves of protein based foods each day. Below lists protein-rich plant based foods and their serving sizes.

  • 1 cup legumes (chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, black beans, baked beans)
  • 30g nuts and seeds (walnuts, sesame seeds, chia seeds, almonds, cashews, peanuts)
  • 30g textured vegetable protein
  • 150g tofu
  • 100g tempeh
  • 30-40g protein powder

We recommend having a source of protein in each of your meals throughout the day. This could look like having baked beans on toast for breakfast, chickpeas in a salad with lunch and adding lentils to a soup for dinner.


Calcium is an essential micronutrient in the body. It has two main functions; to maintain healthy bones and teeth and to be present in the blood, assisting with nerve and muscle function. When the body doesn’t get enough calcium in the diet, it will pull it from the bones to supply the amount needed in the blood.

Calcium is typically known as being derived from cows-based dairy products. However, on a vegan diet, these foods are not eaten.

Luckily, there are a lot of calcium-rich foods available in plant based foods.

Most adults need at least 2-3 serves of calcium rich foods each day. This will increase with age, with women over the age of 51 needing 4 serves of day.

One serving of calcium from plant-based foods include:

  • 1 cup of calcium-fortified plant milk (soy, rice, almond, oat)
  • 2 slices of calcium-fortified plant cheese 
  • ¾ cup of calcium-fortified yoghurt
  • 4 cups or 1.5 cooked of raw kale, bok choy, choy sum
  • 5 tablespoon of chia seeds

When looking to see if a product is calcium fortified, we recommend looking at the nutrition panel on the product and choosing a product with 300mg of calcium per cup.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is the one nutrient that cannot be found on a vegan diet. Originally found in bacteria in the ground, vitamin B12 is eaten by animals and then absorbed into their blood. It is typically found in animal products such as meat, eggs or dairy products, which is where most humans consume it from. 

There are some vegan sources of vitamin B12. This includes nutritional yeast, vegemite and fortified plant based milks.

Unfortunately, unless these foods are eaten three times a day, vitamin B12 needs cannot be met.

Deficiency of vitamin B12 is serious. It can lead to symptoms such as fatigue, tiredness, tingly hands and feet as well as irreversible brain and nerve damage. 

We recommend all vegans to take a vitamin B12 supplement to prevent deficiency. We recommend speaking with your doctor or dietitian to determine the appropriate dosage for you. 


Iron is an important nutrient for transporting oxygen around the body. It can be found in two forms in food; haem (found in animals) and non-haem (found in plants).

Due to the presence of phytates and oxalates in plant based foods, non-haem iron is not as well absorbed as haem iron.

Iron deficiency can be common in plant-based eaters as requirements for iron are 80% more than those following an omnivorous diet. 

Iron rich plant based foods include spinach, chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, tofu, tempeh, almonds and cashews. Iron is also rich in fortified products such as weetbix and infant rice cereal for babies. 

To help increase the absorption of plant-based iron, it is recommended to add vitamin C to meals containing iron. This helps improve absorption by 50%.

Tea and coffee should also be kept away from meals. These contain tannins which significantly reduce iron absorption. 


When following a plant-based diet,  it is important to consider the nutrient zinc. This is a mineral found throughout all the body tissues and plays roles in immunity, metabolism and DNA synthesis.

Similar to iron, those following a vegan or vegetarian diet have 50% higher zinc requirements than omnivores. 

Zinc is rich in foods such as sundried tomatoes, red kidney beans, peanut butter, tahini, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds. 

To reduce the presence of the nutrient inhibitor phytate, food-processing techniques can be used such as fermenting wholegrains, soaking legumes and sprouting seeds and grains. It is also important to avoid taking iron supplements close to meals. 

Foods that are rich in protein also help to improve zinc absorption as protein binds to zinc. 

The bottom line

Plant-based diets are rich in nutrients and have many health benefits. It is important to ensure that you follow a well planned plant-based diet due to the increased risk of nutritional deficiencies. The core nutrients to consider include vitamin B12, iron, calcium, protein and zinc. 

Kiah Paetz

Kiah is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and Accredited Nutritionist. She runs the PNW Clinic, a boutique nutrition consultancy specialising in plant-based diets, eating disorders and gut health. Her nutrition philosophy is to encourage everyone to “eat more plants” due to the strong link between plant-based diets and reducing risk of chronic disease.


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